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Ain’t nothing gonna keep her down

Racing on Empty

A new book Racing on Empty hit the shelves a few months ago. It's the autobiography of skier Iona Rossely - who should not have been alive to write it.

Iona, an Irishwoman who lives and works in New South Wales, was a competitive speed skier. The sport involves hurtling in a straight line downhill as fast as humanly possible. Speed skiers regularly reach speeds of up to 200kmh. That kind of speed is not called breakneck for nothing.

Iona was competing in the World Cup in France in 1987 when an accident happened. Flying down the slope at 160kmh, her right ski came off. She flew off the top of a gully like a human slingshot in a move that she describes in her book as "like jumping out of a block of flats".

She churned through the air like a rag doll in a spindryer for 1.5km before landing with all the force of a sledgehammer on a block of granite. Sitting up, she saw fragments of bone protruding from her right leg.

"I just thought 'that's it, I'm dead'," she wrote in her book. Then she blacked out.

Iona Rossely sports
Iona Rossely in her skiing days in the 80s and later on the Irish Equestrian team.

Iona did not die, though her doctor said she should have. But it took an eight-hour operation and 28 metal screws to put her shattered leg back together again.

Told the accident was the end of her sporting career, she again defied the odds and represented Ireland in the World Championships of Endurance Racing, and the World Equestrian Games, adding the title of top Irish rider at the World Equestrian Games to her international skiing accolades.

She had success, fame and money thanks to lucrative endorsements and advertising contracts. Yet there was an emptiness in her soul.

Iona was born into a fairly strict Catholic family and the rituals and traditions led her to believe God was impersonal and distant, so she walked away from Christianity. Instead she turned to Buddhism, tarot cards and crystals. But nothing filled the void.

Then, while recuperating in Cyprus she met a Christ follower.

"My physiotherapist was a Christian and she invited me to a Bible group," Iona said. "I was very reluctant but I went with her and I was overwhelmed by the love that I was shown. Unfortunately, I still had this obsession with my identity – which was all wrapped up in sport."

She moved to France in the early 2000s and met a Christian couple who became close friends. They were "so compassionate, so loving", she said. "They lived and breathed Jesus. We did the Alpha Course (an introduction to the Christian faith) together."

She said at that stage she considered herself a Christian but struggled to hear from God.

It wasn't until the World Equestrian Games in 2009 that her faith was sealed. It began when her horse had an epileptic fit the day before their race.

"I was really quite distraught because I couldn't understand why God would allow that to happen when it was important to me," she said.

Shortly afterwards, she walked into her kitchen and saw her open Bible on the table. "It was like Jesus walked into the kitchen," she recalled. "I just had this overwhelming sense of love. In that moment I realised that I didn't want to carry on running my own life, I needed to let go of my obsession with my identity and my sport.

"I had this overwhelming sense of peace and an overwhelming sense of freedom that I'd never really felt before. It was just amazing."

Today Iona is a lay minister for the Anglican Parish of Murwillumbah in New South Wales. She is an artist, speaker and avid animal lover and her passion is sharing her testimony on how God gave her a new life.

"I'm loving Australia. It's the right place," she said.

In the closing pages of her book she writes: "I had worked hard over the years to tame horses, dogs and cats, most of which were broken and rejected. In a way, God had been doing the same with me. I was broken and am still partially broken. But every day another piece of me gets put back into its rightful place."

Iona Rossely
Iona Rossely

In an interview with UK Christian website Eden, Iona said she wrote the book "for all those who feel broken and lost and have nowhere to turn, for those who have everything but don't understand why life seems shallow and meaningless and for the rich and the poor who seek the truth; it's for those who have everything and those who have nothing."

Her favourite Bible verses are 2 Corinthians 3:17 - "Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." And Matthew 6:33 - "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all things will be added to you."

She said God has shown her that we are all in a race, "but if we keep our eyes focused just on Him then yes, we will win. I am still very competitive, but now I'm competitive for God.

"What was hindering my relationship with Jesus was my stuff and my possessions, my horses, my winning, my obsession with competing. But as soon as you drop your idols, then God can actually really get into your life."

*The royalties from Racing on Empty will all go to the Sozo Foundation, a charity based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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